Textured Monotonies V (2023)

The recordings on Textured Monotonies V have actually been ready for release since Dec 2022, but the many-tentacled beast that is life added multiple layers of entanglement that caused the album to wait in the wings for a bit.

Musicking is how I respond to and integrate the process of living, and sometimes the more challenging my life is, the more prolific I become, a combination of coping mechanism (emotional sensemaking / meditative focus) and creative discovery (inspiration / keeping the mind attuned to possibility).

It’s not unusual for me to have multiple musical projects overlapping or developing simultaneously, and often one piece of music will lead to a technical or creative discovery that propels me in an altogether different creative direction – or several. It’s fractal, branching, reflecting the branching of my neurons as I explore. In the ten months between June 2022 and March 2023, I released 18 albums (5 compilations of previous work and 13 of new recordings). There was plenty going on in my life, as written in previous posts for the albums concerned.

Also ever-present in my mix is an autistic attention (or preference) toward releasing projects in the chronology of their creation, their ‘right order’. Like my love of listmaking, or the oft-described Aspergan urge to organise objects (or concepts) into collections, categories or aesthetically-pleasing patterns, I definitely experience a certain psychological satisfaction or harmony in the creative process of cataloguing my work. I feel better when a project has completed its cycle and can be added to its ‘family’. But of course, life is never a straight line, some albums come together more quickly than others, and some have to wait for others to reach completion before they can take their place in the timeline. I think of my musicking as a form of impressionistic journaling; each album is a sketchbook that documents my movement in spacetime, through significant life events and learnings, and capturing the evolutionary sequence of my creative process.

Mapping myself this way helps me remember that I do actually accomplish a lot despite my seemingly (to the ‘outside’ world) aimless, unpredictable existence. Often I’m so immersed in the present moment, that I feel myself as ‘just a thing that happens’ and I forget where I’ve previously ‘happened’. This state of immersion in whatever state I find myself in is also at the heart of the music I affectionately call my Textured Monotonies.

Textured Monotonies V is naturally a continuation in the Textured Monotonies series I began earlier this year. I’m using the series as a container for pieces that lean toward ambience or are meditative in tone, including moments of dissonance & abstraction, but all with a focus on evoking atmospheres, textures, layers of mood, internal states and inner journeys. Often the music uses drones, loops, extended cycles, repetition, minimalism, space, and mostly the tone is gentle on the ears, although Textured Monotonies V contains some moments that are more restless, unsettling or disquieting.

The first four albums in the series are selections of some favourite pieces from previous albums released between 2018 – 2022. From this new album onward, all future Textured Monotonies will consist of new material. This means I can tinker on individual pieces at a relaxed pace, knowing they’ll have a home to go to, because the series allows for a rich diversity of styles.

The opening track, Garden Of H, began as a brief phone recording of my friend H playing her metal tongue drum out in the garden. H has an amazing ability to dissolve into her musical zone when she picks up an instrument, and I find her improvisations fluid and transportive. I made several copies of the phone recording and slowed them down by various rates, then layered them over each other to create an ensemble effect. I had used this technique a lot on the Temple album, on which I made recordings of the same tongue drum alongside other resonant metal percussion (kalimba, Tibetan singing bowl etc).

It was a simple creative approach but I found the outcome mesmerising. The composition is entirely made of H, layers of H, a flowering of herself accompanying herself.  The layers each provide their own rhythmic pulsation and melodic character, and together they blend and harmonise beautifully. The flowering analogy was especially relevant at the time, as H had been creating a vibrant garden for herself in a difficult environment, in a process that reflected the internal gardening she was doing at the time, her inner work. You can hear the original recording that H sent me at 3:28 into the track. I also used further manipulation on these tracks to create the undulating drones and seemingly-electronic tones in Ornithological, which appears later in this collection.

Two of these pieces, Somewhere We Waltz Forever Beneath The Waves and A Heart Unfurling To The Dawn Light, venture into classical atmospheres, and were experiments with a new cello sample library released online by Spitfire Audio. I was especially drawn to the nuance and organic expression captured in these cello samples, and the rich textures gave voice to some deeply heartfelt currents in my moods at the time – feelings of loss, the ache of the heart being stretched by circumstance, and the melancholic yearning toward beauty. These two pieces, and their emotional themes, led me to further explorations that became (yet) another project, the piano / cello / horns centred album Intimacies.

Some of the pieces on V began with reconstituted bits of previous recordings. Among the album’s less ambient moments, Interial Martian is a section I’ve lifted mostly intact from the track Arterial Motion, on the Crucible album. I felt the section was an interesting sonic abstraction in its own right, independent of its host, and so refined it a little and gave it more room to breathe. Its spacey atmosphere harkens me somehow to an earlier era of sci-fi soundtrack, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Kubrick’s 2001, Fantastic Planet and the like. Sharing a similar metallic sheen is the final track, Eno For Goblins. The shimmering, scraping metallic drones in this piece are mainly built from a fragment of electric guitar sampled from the track Psociatric Assetudes Botherness, from 2018’s Asp Burger album. While the sounds are quite abrasive, I was trying to find the edge or outer limit of each sound just before it became too uncomfortable on the ear (an entirely subjective exercise, of course). I was also amusing myself with the notion that goblins might find these sounds quite ambient and soothing, hence the title.

Another track that sprouts from previous work is Invisible Surfaces, which is largely based on sampling the resonance inside a piano after a note is struck. I sourced this particular sample from the Oort album, which uses piano resonance as its main building block (a creative parameter I set myself for that album). The thrumming drones are loops of the sample, layered over each other at varying pitches to generate new pulsations and subtle overtones, complemented by some additional electronic textures. Shaped Air, the most ambient piece in this collection, is a third generation reconstitution, an outer outer ripple of recordings I made in 2018. I lifted a section from the PostNebulism album, which itself was an extraction from Loveletters Beneath The Waves, then tweaked it further into a moment of undulating air.

But Where Is Now? is another thrumming drone experiment, this time using sounds from the infinitely-inspiring Surge synthesiser plug-in. It begins with a drone from a single organ note, punctuated by a riff that builds a certain foreboding tension, then softens into a Tangerine Dream-ish cat’s-tongue synth pulse as the piece moves toward the horizon…

Once again I’ve used one of H’s remarkable photographic abstractions for the cover image. It is a direct representation (no filters) of light on the surface of the river near where we were living at the time, with the colours of a sunset intermingling on the water in lines that could easily be calligraphic brush strokes.